Virtual reality (VR) is something that is still very new to the vast majority of people. Nonetheless, the technology has come a long way in just a few short years. Products like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have popularized modern-day VR and have set the bar quite high for folks who do actually follow the category and have experienced these platforms for themselves. Of course these VR options are quite expensive. Those who want to try VR on the cheap should instead consider a mobile VR device. For those in the Apple camp, is there even a VR headset for iPhone users? Good question.
Officially Apple has yet to offer a VR headset for iPhone, but there are plenty of third party options. In this article, we’ll take a look at the best VR headsets for iPhone.
Why should you care about VR?
We’re not going to get into all of the reasons why VR is so important today, or where it is headed in the future (we’ll save that for another day.) However, if you’re on the fence when it comes to trying VR, maybe we can provide you with a few reasons that might give you the extra nudge you need.
It’s not just another means of consuming entertainment. When some people think about VR, they think it’s just another means of watching videos or playing games. Yes, that’s a large part of it, but a quality VR headset for iPhone users can do so much more. VR can be used as a tool in many facets of our everyday lives. It can be used to create art in apps such as Tilt Brush. It can be used to help furnish your home with experiences such as what Macy’s is providing to its customers. It can be used to help find your next apartment, and it can also be used to socialize with friends in apps like Facebook’s Spaces.
When we can actually experience a simulated environment, we're more apt to pick up a new skill.
It’s changing the way we learn. If you reflect back on how you learned best when growing up, or even still so today, you might find that you learn better when actually experiencing something, rather than just learning about it. The same goes for VR. When we can actually experience a simulated environment, we’re more apt to pick up a new skill. Google has been testing this on their own with an espresso-making VR teaching experience, and their results have shown that participants taught in VR learned faster than those who watched a video tutorial. These types of experiences are only going to become more widely available in the coming months and years.
It’s changing the way we observe the world. On an even more grand scale, VR is having an impact on how we observe the world around us. Nothing puts things into perspective more than actually being immersed in a particular environment. For instance, the Compassion Experience is a pop-up exhibit that partners with churches to allow visitors to walk in the shoes of underprivileged kids in developing countries with the help of VR headsets and audio-guided tours of physical spaces. Experiences like these are shaping our views of the world around us and have a much greater impact than games and videos.
What makes for a quality VR experience?
Modern-day VR requires a lot of computing power. If you want to go all-in and get yourself an Oculus Rift of HTC Vive, you’re also going to have to invest in a gaming computer that has enough juice to power those VR experiences. For instance, the suggested specs for the Oculus Rift require an NVIDIA GTX 1060, Intel i5-4590 CPU, and 8GB of RAM. In some cases, you might even need more horsepower than that to maintain the high frame rates required to eliminate motion sickness.
You won't find the same experience with your iPhone as you would with a desktop rig.
Though mobile phones are ebbing ever closer to being powerful enough for immersive VR experiences, you still won’t find the same experience with a VR headset for iPhone as you would with a desktop rig. Nonetheless, here are a couple of things to keep in mind when preparing for mobile VR.
The higher the screen resolution, the better. When you put your phone screen close to your eyes, you’re inevitably going to see pixels. The lenses in mobile VR headsets make it possible for our eyes to focus on mobile screens when they are so close to our faces, but they don’t really compensate for lower resolution. While there isn’t really a minimum requirement for mobile VR screen resolution, you’ll want to opt for higher PPI (pixels per inch) whenever possible. Put simply, the higher your screen’s PPI, the less pixelation you will have in the VR experience.
The faster the processor, the better. This almost goes without saying, but newer, higher-end phones are going to give you the best mobile VR experience. The newer chips in these devices, such as Apple’s A11 chip, will be able to handle a heavier load and maintain the frame rates needed to keep you immersed in the experience and minimize the motion sickness you might experience.
What should you look for when buying a mobile VR headset?
What’s the best VR headset for iPhone users? There’s a lot of options out there, but there’s a few things you should look for when making a buying decision.
Quality build. At the price point that many of these VR headsets for iPhone come in at, you’re going to find a lot of plastic, which isn’t actually a bad thing when you consider that weight is a huge factor for a piece of equipment that’s going to be hanging on your face. What you’ll want to pay attention to is that the materials that are used to provide cushion for your face are made of quality materials that aren’t going to make you super hot and aren’t going to make you itch or get irritated. That might mean something different for everyone, but paying attention to consumer reviews will be a good idea here before pulling the trigger.
Phone compatibility. This one might go without saying, but make sure the headset that you purchase will work with your phone. Every headset on our list here will work with an iPhone 8, iPhone X and smaller iPhones, but if you decide to go with a device that isn’t on our list, make sure you pay attention to the phone compatibility list. How do you know if a VR headset truly supports iPhone? Obviously reading the tin helps, but in most cases — as long as it supports the “Google Cardboard” platform you shouldn’t have any issues.
Remote/Input options. Depending on what you will primarily be using your VR headset for iPhone to do, you may or may not need a dedicated input method. However, if you plan on playing games or engaging in some of the more interactive experiences, you’ll want to look for VR headsets that are bundled with Bluetooth remotes. Some VR headsets come with touch functionality on their exteriors, but this proves to be a less comfortable method of interaction than a remote in many cases.
Bells and whistles. As you’ll see when you get into our list or any list of the best VR headsets for iPhone that you might find elsewhere, there is a lot of product parity in this category. The majority of these headsets will have a familiar look, be made of similar materials, and function largely the same. However, some VR headsets go above and beyond and include things like built-in earphones, better quality lenses, sliding phone mounts for increased security, etc. Depending on how serious you plan to be about your mobile VR experience, you might consider these options.
The best VR headsets for iPhone
So let’s get into it. If after reading more about why you might want to consider giving virtual reality a try, what makes a good VR experience, and what you should look for when buying a headset, let’s take a look at what we’ve found to be the best VR headsets for iPhone. If you already have a headset for your iPhone, let us know about it in the comments below so we can take a look for ourselves!
Merge VR Headset
The Merge VR Headset is arguably the best VR headset for iPhone users due to its durable yet comfortable materials, and a few extras you won’t find elsewhere. However, there are a couple of drawbacks that might have you looking elsewhere if you want something a bit more serious.
Great for kids and classrooms. The coolest part of this device is the material of which it is constructed. Whereas most VR headsets for iPhone are made from hard plastic, the Merge VR headset is made from a firm foam material that holds up well when being tossed around or in a bag. It’s also easy to clean if you plan on using this in a classroom setting and don’t want to spread sickness than is normal when you get a bunch of kids together.
Passthrough camera slot. You’ll notice when looking at photos of this device that there is a cutout on the front that allows for the foam to be pulled out, exposing your phone’s camera. In our usage, there aren’t many apps that require the use of your phone’s camera, but it’s nice to have that option should you ever need it.
Dual-input pads. Like the Google Cardboard (which we’ll get to here shortly,) the Merge VR headset has touch pads that allow you to interact with the mobile VR app. What’s different here is that this device has two touchpads instead of one. The input buttons for these touchpads are better quality than on the Google Cardboard and are great to have if you need extra control over a game you are playing or if you need to switch hands after a lengthy session.
Tough to insert some phones. The one downside to the material that this headset is made of, and the way in which it is constructed is that it can be tough to insert your phone at times. Phones that are larger will be tough to shove through the opening, and some users have reported tearing the foam material when trying to insert their phones.
No bundled remote. Sure, the Merge VR headset has dual input buttons on the actual unit, but it doesn’t come with a bundled Bluetooth remote which most people will tell you are a better experience when playing games.
Pansonite VR Headset
The Pansonite is arguably the best VR headset for those that want something a bit more hardcore from their mobile VR experience. It’s not built like the Merge headset so you won’t want to toss this around or shove it in a bag without a bit of caution, especially with the built-in headphones being susceptible to damage. This headset has a lot of bells and whistles, so if that’s something you’re interested in, this one’s for you. Of course the same games, apps, and experiences pretty much run on all these VR headsets for iPhone — just that this one comes with a few extras like a controller and adjustable lenses.
Adjustable lenses. Something that is a huge benefit with a lot of headsets on our list is that they include adjustable lenses for your eyes. The Pansonite headset handles this task well with adjusting knobs on the top of the unit to move the lenses closer or further from your eyes.
Built-in headphones. One great thing that you’ll notice when looking at the Pansonite headset is that it has built-in headphones. To fully immerse yourself in the game you’re playing, or the movie you’re watching, audio is crucial. Listening to the audio that is piped out of your phone isn’t the best of VR, so having headphones is a great benefit. Instead of having to fiddle with routing your headphones from your phone to your ears, the Pansonite takes care of that for you.
Bundled remote. Though some users complain of buttons not functioning well on their units, the Pansonite VR headset comes with a bundled remote to pair with your phone. This is going to improve your gaming experience and make navigating various user interfaces much easier when compared to a headset that requires you to use touch controls on the unit, or even worse, take your phone out of the headset.
On the higher end of the cost scale. At $50 (at the time of writing,) the Pansonite comes in a bit more expensive than other headsets. Still, this price point is a pretty affordable entry into VR, and if you decide you don’t like it, there’s likely someone around you that will give you a few bucks for it.
Head strap could be improved. Comfort is obviously very important when you’re talking about something you’re wearing on your head. Unfortunately, the head strap on this headset could be a bit better when it comes to the adjustability. Some folks complain that it’s tough to get a tight fit, and that can be a problem if the headset is moving around while you’re trying to watch a movie.
DESTEK V4 VR
Another highly-rated VR headset is the DESTEK V4 VR headset. This headset offers a 103˚ field of view, and just looks really cool when you’re using. Some of the build features and included accessories set this one apart from the crowd.
Understated design. Design is a subjective topic, but in my humble opinion, the Destek V4 VR headset takes the cake when it comes to design when compared to the others on this list. The flat black design and simple hard plastic shell don’t scream “hey look I’m a high-tech device” like some other units try to do. You might notice that this design is very similar to the Gear VR headset in shape and size.
Blue light filter lenses. Shielding blue light from your eyes is a new trend in tech. There are tons of third-party apps that allow you to eliminate blue light from your computer screens, and most computers and smartphone manufacturers are now building filters directly into their software. Well, if you want to take the extra precaution, the DESTEK V4 VR headset includes anti-blue light lenses to do just that.
Leather padding. Going back to comfort, the DESTEK headset uses leather padding around the goggle portion of the unit as well as on the back head strap. The faux leather material typically causes less irritation for uses, though it can still get a bit warm.
Bundled remote is hard to handle. It’s great that DESTEK includes a remote with the unit, but the design of the remote which is meant to work in both hands, or as a single-hand remote is a bit small for most people and can be a bit hard to handle, especially when you can’t see what you’re doing with it when you’re in a VR app.
Official Google Cardboard
You could say that Google Cardboard is the pioneer in this space and therefore the very best VR headset for iPhone in terms of compatibility and simplicity. When it was released in 2014 as a freebie for Google I/O attendees, mobile VR headsets weren’t really even a thing yet. The prospect of being able to stick a device you already own into an assembled piece of cardboard to be able to experience “VR” was very exciting for people. Still, to this day, Google Cardboard is a product worth considering.
Very affordable. The biggest win for this device is its price. Considering there are only a couple of pieces on the entire unit that aren’t made from, well, cardboard, it’s easy to see how this thing comes in so inexpensive. For that reason, if you’re on the edge about trying VR, this is a great option since you won’t be out of much money if you decide that VR isn’t for you.
Fits most phones. The Google Cardboard unit fits phones from 4 to 6 inches in size which will have most devices covered. Like the other headsets on this list, Cardboard was not made with any particular device in mind, so using your iPhone won’t be an issue.
Can take abuse. Given that the device isn’t made of anything too rigid like the hard (but thin) plastic that most mobile VR headsets are constructed with, this unit can take a little bit of abuse. Cardboard absorbs a lot of impact, so you could probably drop this thing out of a plane and be able to pick it back up to use. Obviously, we didn’t test that theory. I would just suggest making sure your phone isn’t inside when tossing this around, and I wouldn’t suggest sitting anything heavy on it.
Not built for comfort. Cardboard as a material has its benefits, but it also has its downsides. One of those being – comfort. While some of the other devices on this list have padding around the eyes, you’ve just got cardboard here. So, after pressing this against your face for very long, it’s going to get a bit uncomfortable. And, since there are no head straps by default, your arms might get a little tired from holding it up very long. This device is really meant for very short VR experiences.
Can’t be used with a remote. Finally, the Google Cardboard doesn’t come with an included remote. Back to the fact that you have to hold this to your face manually, it might be hard to use a remote even if it did include one. Fortunately, if you need a remote for what you want to do in VR, you can purchase tons of them for pretty cheap.
Canbor VR Headset
Last, but not least on our list is the Canbor VR headset. This one is very similar to the Pansonite headset but comes in at a lower price point. This is another great option if what you’re looking for is a headset that has the bells and whistles.
Leather padding. Again, comfort is king when it comes to these mobile VR units, and fortunately, the Canbor headset has leather padding. This kind of padding is much less of an irritant when compared to regular foam padding which can get hot and sweaty and also pretty stinky after a while.
Built-in headphones. Audio is a huge deal when it comes to getting fully immersed in your VR experience, so have these built-in headphones is a big advantage. It’s a much better alternative than having to route your phone’s headphone cables through the unit and out to your ears.
Great head support. The straps on the Canbor VR headset trump many of the others when it comes to their size and adjustability. The plate on the top strap also provides some extra support which is a welcome addition.
Audio bleeds out from headphones. The downside to the headphones that are included here is that they don’t fit snuggly onto your head. This is just a byproduct of how the device is made and, well, how big your head is (we don’t mean to offend anyone who’s head these fit snuggly to.) Without that tight fit, some of the audio will inadvertently bleed which will take you out of the experience a bit and may also annoy some of the folks around you.
Lens adjustment knobs are finicky. On the bright side, this headset had lens adjustments so you can get the focus tune just right for your eyes. On the downside, the knobs that control the adjusting can be a little finicky and might move a little on their own if you’re jolting the unit from time to time. Either way, it’s good practice to adjust the lenses whenever you put the device on.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, there is a lot of brand parity when it comes to mobile VR headsets. However, if you’re looking for an easy way into the technology and want work your way up to something more serious like an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive, these VR headsets for iPhone will be a good way to do so. They don’t cost much, but they also aren’t made of much. If you end up breaking one or losing it, you won’t be out of too much money, and as long as you’re not super serious about the whole thing, you can have a lot of fun.
Did we miss your favorite VR headset for iPhone? Let us know about it in the comments below so we can check it out for ourselves!